[Please note: The following are personal musings and not to be construed as *the* Orthodox understanding. If anything here contradicts the received teaching and way of life of the (Orthodox) Church, please correct me. As always: check with your priest or spiritual father.]
Why Protestants–and Not Orthodox–Must Change Their Ecclesiology for Union to Obtain
In the two previous posts, I reflected on the difficulty of ecumenism precisely on the difference of understanding on what unity actually is, and on the impossibility to adjudicate the differences in dogma between Christian groups from within ecumenism. I also noted in the previous post that there can only be one criterion of truth and of unity: that of Christ himself, and that ecclesiologies that depart from this criterion are not only Church heresies, but ultimately Christological heresies as well.
Among Protestants generally, the dominant ecclesiologies seem to be: Nestorian (the Church is human and divine, both divided off from one another–humans do not partake of the divine nature but are in juridical relationship with the Godhead, and sanctified as morally pure humans–but called by the common name of “Church”), adoptionist (the Church is only a human institution, but has been adopted by God as his people, but is not otherwise divine), Arian (the Church is the highest human organization created by God, but not divine and always forever separated from union with God), or even perhaps a variant of gnosticism (the Church is neither human nor divine, but something like a bridge of those with “spiritual knowledge” for uninitiated humanity to the unite with the divine). This is not to deny that some Protestants have what seem on their face to be formally orthodox ecclesiologies, but in that they do not seem to sense the implications of their not becoming Catholic or Orthodox one wonders if the point is being missed.
So, if Protestant ecclesiologies are themselves deficient, then it stands to reason that their ecclesiologies must change if there is to be the sort of union Christ speaks of and embodies in Himself. For if Mary gave birth only to Christ’s humanity, but did not birth Him who is fully God and fully Man, then neither does the Church give birth, by the Spirit, to deified humanity. The great divide between God and man is never overcome, and we remain separated from Him forever. This is the Nestorian ecclesiology, if you will. We become perfect and even sinless humans, but remain forever separated from God. All the rest of the Protestant heretical ecclesiologies also suffer from this ultimate conclusion: there is no union of the Church with God, but an eternal separation. Christians are perfect and sinless, but nothing more than “superhumanity.” Christ died only to make persons morally perfect, not to unite them to God.
Now clearly most Protestants don’t intend this conclusion. They speak of union with God. But what sort of union is it? It’s just like human fellowship. God is our Father. Jesus is our “bigger” brother. The Holy Spirit–well here is where the analogy falls apart (which itself should be a huge flashing warning sign). But there is no actual, real participation in God. The union is filial. But it is not the taking on of God’s energies. It is red-orange painted on iron. It is not iron turning red-orange from taking on the fire’s energy.
Further, for those Protestants who seem to formally have an ecclesiology that matches up with that of historic Christianity, there is a huge disconnect from the implications of such formal orthodoxy. For if it is the case that the Church is a divine-human institution, if the Church really is the Body of Christ, then it cannot be the case that any Protestant Church can, as a church, be that Body. But if that Protestant Church is not the Body of Christ, then intentional membership within that body is intentional schism. And the spiritual consequences and dangers of schism ought be obvious.
Please note two important things. I am not arguing for the failure of Protestant churches to be, in any real sense, the Body of Christ on the basis of the fact that either the Orthodox or Roman Catholic Churches claim to be that Body. Rather, I am arguing for that failure on the basis of the tenor of Protestant ecclesiologies themselves. In that these ecclesiologies instantiate Christiological heresies, they fail to instantiate the Church. And if that is the case, then no Protestant church can, of itself, be the Church. In fact, even those Protestants who espouse a formal ecclesiological orthodoxy, only end up intentionally perpetuating schism.
Now, it may well be that Protestants would deny that their respective ecclesiologies are tantamount to Christological heresies. I’m willing to predict that they will deny either that these Christological heresies apply to ecclesiology (or that their ecclesiology is no heresy) or deny that they adhere to these heresies. But they will have to argue for the former denial(s), and they still fall to the schism charge in light of the latter.
Since it is the case that the modern ecumenical movement arose from within Protestantism, then it is the Protestant ecclesiologies what will have to change for the reasons above. For even if all the Protestants of the globe are able to achieve an organic union, they will still remain Protestant. It may be an advance for ecumenism, but it will still be a failure for the unity of the Church.
Secondly, I am not arguing that anyone outside of Orthodoxy (or, to argue on principle, of Roman Catholicism) are not Christian in any sense. That may or may not be the case. But it is not part of my argument here. On a personal level, my opinion is that the Spirit of God blows where He wills, and although there is fact of the Body of Christ I have no basis to judge those outside the Church (which, sacramentally speaking, I, myself, still am outside the Church). In any case, salvation is not a given until, well, it’s a given. There are many Orthodox (and Roman Catholic) who will fail to be saved and will be in hell. “Membership” is no guarantee.
[This is another in a handful of reflections I want to make on the matter of Church unity.